The new normal continues to take shape as social distancing and other health and safety measures bring transformational shifts to our behaviors, societal values, employment practices, and leadership approaches. The demarcation between winners and losers in this environment may become clearer than ever. What it takes to be on the winning side could vary by industry, location, and/or profession. In our survey about the new normal, we asked leaders from the energy, health, and coaching industries about their views on what it takes for businesses in their respective sectors to excel in the new normal. Their answers indicate that bigger picture success drivers are similar across the economy. How each of these is interpreted will clearly be different for each organization.
What will take for businesses to be on the winning side in the ‘new normal’?
There was a great deal of consensus among our respondents that winning in the new environment will hinge on realizing and maintaining a tricky balance between flexibility and innovation on one hand and taking responsibility for sustainability on the other.
- Innovation in employee and client solutions. As discussed in earlier blogs, the preference for having the flexibility to work remotely and meet virtually when possible is expected to be here to stay. Applying communication and digital technologies creatively to allow employees to do their jobs while adhering to social distancing has already proven to be an important survival and success tool in the new normal. Innovation in client solutions has also been a major differentiator for grocery stores, other retailers, and restaurants that were quick to upgrade their online shopping and delivery systems. Professional service providers offering research, advisory, consulting, and coaching services have also increased their online activity levels immensely. Even healthcare services are now trying to be creative about going largely virtual where possible. Our respondents feel that continued innovation in leveraging digital technologies to improve employee and client experiences to help establish diversified businesses will be critical for success in the new normal.
- A proactive attitude toward change and risk assessment and management. Embracing the constant state of change that comes with the new normal is viewed as a top driver for winning. While predicting the timing and nature of change accurately can be near impossible, winners will typically have established the capability to identify, assess and navigate risks. Being proactive about embracing change and assessing and mitigating risks calls for a great deal of operational and commercial flexibility and nimbleness. Also, while visionary leaders can be naturally gifted in identifying signposts for game changers, every leader can benefit from a mechanism for soliciting such input from visionaries within their organization and wider industry. The leaders we spoke to realize that it could be very complicated to be prepared for winning under many potential future scenarios for how things could evolve in the short, long, and medium term. But they’ve all agreed that otherwise success would be far fetched in an evolving and volatile new normal.
- Sustainability-oriented business models. Leaders that had considered operating efficiency and emergency preparedness among their top priorities in the last few years, have been better able to ensure business continuity during the COVID19 crisis. Going forward, our respondents believe that taking responsibility for sustainability will require mental, emotional, physical, and financial preparation. Effective sustainability business models will, therefore, have to encompass all aspects that impact operations including facilities, human capital, skillsets, structures, information technology, and financials. Also, an organizational culture that values continuous efficiency improvement can be a real differentiator for organizations that prioritize sustainability. In addition to their operational, business continuity, and financial benefits, sustainability business models remain an important tool for realizing ambitious environmental goals.
- Employee empowerment and engagement. Most of the leaders that responded to our survey agreed that the quality of leadership will be a real differentiator for winners in the post-COVID19 world. Engaging employees in identifying and addressing challenges and preparing for emergencies while ensuring alignment around organizational visions and missions is recommended not only for winning but also for survival. This requires an open exchange of feedback with employees and commitment to the greater good of stakeholders, not just shareholders. This in turn will allow organizations to function with a longer time horizon mindset, beyond maximizing next quarter returns and engender innovation in ensuring nimbleness in the face of volatility.
Interestingly, wining strategies in the new normal do not seem very different from some of the top leadership priorities that we had all been working on during the last few years: innovation, sustainability, employee empowerment and engagement, and a proactive approach to change and risk management. COVID19 and the ensuing economic crisis are now accelerating the attention to these priorities and reinforcing their importance for business continuity and commercial performance. In addition to assessing and managing risks, winning businesses will be those who are able to adopt and leverage these strategies to identify and capitalize on new opportunities in a socially responsible manner. If you think about it, these principles are relevant for establishing a new foundation for growth across the wider society- including public and private organizations across sectors, charities, special interest groups, communities, and even families. As influencers within several of such entities, we each have the responsibility to bring more agility, flexibility, sustainability, and engagement to our environments.